In the early months of 1861—as the Confederate flag unfurled above Fort Sumter, as bands played and newly formed regiments paraded in towns and cities throughout the North and the South—two civilians sat disconsolately at the sidelines of the Civil War. One had recently taken a desk job running a horse-drawn trolley line. He spent most of his days pushing papers, trying his hardest to concentrate on the minutiae of fare revenues and fodder costs, in an office permeated with pungent aromas from the company’s adjacent stables. The other man was a down-at-the-heels, small-town shop clerk who had come to the city in search of an officer’s commission. He camped out at his in-laws’ house, trudging around the city each day, fruitlessly trying to attract the attention of the local military authorities. The trolley-car executive was named William Tecumseh Sherman. The luckless clerk was Ulysses S. Grant. Both—as unknown to one other, probably, as each was to the nation—had found themselves in St. Louis.
more from Adam Goodheart at The American Scholar here.